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Childcare settings may use ‘pod’ system when they reopen – minister

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said social distancing would be ‘traumatic’ for children and childcare providers.

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Ministers are looking at how childcare settings can reopen (Niall Carson/PA)

Ministers are looking at how childcare settings can reopen (Niall Carson/PA)

Ministers are looking at how childcare settings can reopen (Niall Carson/PA)

Childcare settings may operate a “pod” system with small groups of children being looked after by the same carers in the same room, the Minister for Children has said.

It has been 10 weeks since schools and creches were closed to stop the spread of Covid-19 and the Government has yet to confirm what date they will reopen.

Katherine Zappone told the Dail on Wednesday that Ireland will look towards the Norwegian model of childcare.

“Children under six cannot do social distancing. Attempts at social distancing would be traumatic for kids and adults that care for them.”

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Minister for Children Katherine Zappone briefs the media (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone briefs the media (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

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Minister for Children Katherine Zappone briefs the media (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

“For the phased reopening we will be referring to the Norwegian model among others and how this might apply to Ireland. As a starting point it is important to acknowledge that children under six cannot do social distancing. Attempts at social distancing would be traumatic for kids and adults that care for them.

“Young children have had enough to cope with, without having further abnormality thrust on them as we emerge from the crisis. Regular hand-washing will be the norm in creches.”

Ms Zappone said childcare could operate in pods: “This would mean small groups of children with the same childcare professional, in the same room with the same toys every time they are there.”

She said her department is examining how many children a childcare practitioner will care for.

Face masks for children would not be mandatory and it may not be practical for childcare workers, she said.

“Our initial preliminary advice is that the wearing of face masks for children under six is unlikely to contribute to improved infection control. It may be the case that children would not use them consistently without a degree of re-enforcement or coercion. This would not be desirable.

“The initial thinking in relation to adults working in childcare centres wearing masks is that it may not be practical, this will be considered and further explored.”

She said there is no way to avert all risk when it comes to reopening all childcare settings but measures will be put in place to minimise risk.

“With public health input, we are working to develop the safest and most pragmatic way to deliver this vital service,” she added.

“We will minimise the risk. There will be an incident of transmission but we can manage this – not prevent it.”

Asked why only six out of more than 4,000 childcare providers signed up to the Government’s childcare scheme for healthcare workers, she said: “My own personal view is that the fear among childcare workers about going into the homes of healthcare workers became larger as time went on and that is one of the things that inhibited them signing up.”

Fewer children will attend creches once they reopen and there may be less demand among parents for childcare services, she said.

“Childcare settings would reopen on a phased basis and there will be a reduction in the numbers of children attending,” she added.

“Initially, there will be a reduction in the numbers that will be cared for in settings.

“We are not fully aware if there will be the same demand for childcare as there was before the pandemic so we will be doing a survey of parents and childcare providers to get the facts to find this out.”

PA